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Hecla faulted for worker death

Feds say miner didn’t have proper equipment

Federal investigators are blaming the November death of a worker in the Lucky Friday Mine on company management.

“The accident occurred due to management’s failure to provide the miners with the proper personal protective equipment,” investigators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded in their report.

The findings include an enforcement action against Hecla Ltd., which owns the Mullan, Idaho, silver mine, and three enforcement actions against Cementation USA, a contractor hired by Hecla to sink a shaft and complete other mine construction projects. Each violation carries a maximum $220,000 fine.

The report recounts the events of Nov. 17 as Brandon Gray, 26, attempted to unplug a rock bin. Although he wore a safety harness and was attached to a self-retracting lifeline, the equipment was not appropriate for the job.

It was designed to lock in the case of an unobstructed fall – as a car seat belt locks tight when a driver or passenger moves suddenly forward.

Gray fell slowly as the rock gave way, and he became engulfed in the moving pile. His fall was not sudden enough to trigger the self-retracting lifelines.

Gray was eventually extracted from the rock pile, brought to the surface and airlifted to a hospital. He died two days later.

Investigators also reported that Gray and co-worker Jason Figueroa, who survived the fall, had not received proper training to safely remove the rock material from the bin.

Hecla executives said Thursday they were reviewing the report’s conclusions.

James Sabala, Hecla’s chief financial officer, said the firm would decide later whether to appeal the report’s conclusion and enforcement action.

Cementation USA did not respond Thursday to an interview request.

MSHA inspectors closed the Lucky Friday Mine following Gray’s death, which followed a series of accidents, including one that killed Larry “Pete” Marek.

More than 110 of the mine’s 250 workers lost their jobs.

Hecla has rehired a couple of dozen and is expected to bring more workers back, perhaps beginning this month, Sabala said.

At the end of May, workers had cleaned and repaired about half of the 6,100-foot-deep Silver Shaft.